Red carpet, prayers and kisses as Qataris go to the polls

Red carpet, prayers and kisses as Qataris go to the polls
The Oct. 2 vote is for 30 members of the 45-strong Shoura Council. It will be allowed to propose legislation, approve the budget and recall ministers. (AFP)
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Updated 29 September 2021

Red carpet, prayers and kisses as Qataris go to the polls

Red carpet, prayers and kisses as Qataris go to the polls
  • The constitution states only descendants of Qataris present in the country in 1930 are eligible to run or vote

AL-WAKRAH, Qatar: The modest crowd listens respectfully as TV actor Saeed Al-Burshaid gives his first stump speech ahead of Qatar’s inaugural legislative polls.

Burshaid gesticulates passionately as he builds to a crescendo in a nondescript and largely undecorated sports hall south of Doha, watched by a few dozen people sipping tea served by waiters.

“It’s our job to let them (voters) know, and to educate the people,” enthuses Burshaid, a minor celebrity in the Gulf who also previously ran Qatar TV’s drama department.

The Oct. 2 election is for 30 members of the 45-strong Shoura Council, a body that was previously appointed by the emir as an advisory chamber.

Burshaid’s laminated manifesto pledges action on both workers’ and women’s rights, issues for which the 2022 World Cup hosts have been criticized.

Burshaid praises the country’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani and his 2030 development plan.

“The system — we want to make it more open, and also to discuss modern issues,” says Burshaid, who is wearing an immaculate white thobe and was ushered into the hall on a thick red carpet.

The Shoura will be allowed to propose legislation, approve the budget and recall ministers. But the all-powerful emir will wield a veto.

After a pre-event break for prayers, the speech by Burshaid, a candidate for the 14th district, goes ahead uninterrupted, with neither of his two rivals present.

Campaigning in the Arabian desert nation has been subdued for much of the 14-day period allotted for drumming up support.

There are 28 women among the 284 hopefuls running for the 30 available council seats. The remaining 15 seats will be appointed by the emir. Male voters at Burshaid’s segregated campaign event greet each other with customary kisses on the head.

Diplomatic sources suggest families and tribes have already conducted internal ballots to determine who will be elected for their constituencies.

Candidates will have to stand in electoral divisions linked to where their family or tribe was based in the 1930s, using data compiled by the then-British authorities.

Voter Nasser Al-Kuwari said he hoped people would not simply opt for those “closest to (their) family or friends.”

“I hope that we choose the right person in the right place,” he said.

The streets of Qatar’s towns have been speckled with billboards adorned with beaming candidates sporting Qataris’ ubiquitous national dress.

The constitution states only descendants of Qataris present in the country in 1930 are eligible to run or vote.


Pro-army protesters rally again in tense Sudan

Pro-army protesters rally again in tense Sudan
Updated 18 sec ago

Pro-army protesters rally again in tense Sudan

Pro-army protesters rally again in tense Sudan
KHARTOUM: Hundreds of pro-military Sudanese protesters rallied for a second day Sunday, aggravating what Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok called the “worst and most dangerous crisis” of the country’s precarious transition.
The protesters rallying in Khartoum are demanding the dissolution of Sudan’s post-dictatorship interim government, saying it has “failed” them politically and economically.
“The sit-in continues, we will not leave until the government is dismissed,” Ali Askouri, one of the organizers, told AFP.
“We have officially asked the Sovereign Council,” the military-civilian body that oversees the transition, “not to interact with this government anymore,” he added.
The protests come as Sudanese politics reels from divisions among the factions steering the rocky transition from three decades of iron-fisted rule by Omar Al-Bashir.
Bashir was ousted by the army in April 2019 in the face of mass protests driven by the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), a civilian alliance that became a key plank of the transition.
The latest demonstrations, left undisturbed by security forces, have been organized by a splinter faction of the FFC. Critics allege that these protests are being driven by members of the military and security forces, and involve counter-revolutionary sympathizers with the former regime.
The protesters have converged on the presidential palace where the transitional authorities are based, shouting “One army, one people” and demanding “a military government.”
Poverty stricken Sudan has undergone dramatic changes since the ouster of Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, where a conflict that began in 2003 killed 300,000 people.
The United States removed Sudan from its state sponsors of terrorism blacklist in December 2020, eliminating a major hurdle to much-needed aid and investment.
But domestic support for the transitional government has waned in recent months amid a tough package of IMF-backed economic reforms, including the slashing of fuel subsidies and a managed float of the Sudanese pound.
The latest developments come after the government said on September 21 it had thwarted a coup attempt which it blamed on both military officers and civilians linked to Bashir’s regime.
On Friday, Hamdok warned that the transition is facing its “worst and most dangerous” crisis.
Hamdok’s Minister of Finance Jibril Ibrahim on Saturday addressed the crowd demanding the resignation of the government.
The mainstream faction of the FFC said the crisis “is engineered by some parties to overthrow the revolutionary forces... paving the way for the return of remnants of the previous regime.”
Jaafar Hassan, spokesman for the FFC, called the pro-military sit-in “an episode in the scenario of a coup d’etat.”
Its aim, he told AFP, was “to block the road to democracy because the participants in this sit-in are supporters of the former regime and foreign parties whose interests have been affected by the revolution.”
The demonstration heightens tensions ahead of a rival rally planned for Thursday by the opposite side, to demand a full transfer of power to civilians.
Hassan said the FFC organizers aim for “a demonstration of one million people ... to show the world the position of the Sudanese people.”

Erdogan: US proposes F-16 sales in return for Turkey’s F-35 investment

Erdogan: US proposes F-16 sales in return for Turkey’s F-35 investment
Updated 17 October 2021

Erdogan: US proposes F-16 sales in return for Turkey’s F-35 investment

Erdogan: US proposes F-16 sales in return for Turkey’s F-35 investment
  • Turkey wants a return for its investment in the F-35 program and that talks on the issue are ongoing
  • Te US removed Turkey from the program in 2019 after it acquired Russian S-400 missile defense systems

ISTANBUL: President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that the United States had proposed the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey in return for its investment in the F-35 program, from which Ankara was removed after purchasing missile defense systems from Russia.
Reuters reported earlier this month that Turkey made a request to the United States to buy 40 Lockheed Martin-made F-16 fighter jets and nearly 80 modernization kits for its existing warplanes.
Speaking to reporters before departing for a trip to West Africa, Erdogan said Turkey wants a return for its investment in the F-35 program and that talks on the issue are ongoing.
“There is the payment of $1.4 billion we have made for the F-35s and the US had such a proposal in return for these payments,” Erdogan said.
“And regarding this, we said let’s take whatever steps are needed to be taken to meet the defense needs of our country,” he said, adding that the new F-16 jets would help develop its fleet.
Ankara had ordered more than 100 F-35 jets, made by Lockheed Martin Corp, but the US removed Turkey from the program in 2019 after it acquired Russian S-400 missile defense systems.
The decades-old partnership between the NATO allies has gone through unprecedented tumult in the past five years over disagreements on Syria policy, Ankara’s closer ties with Moscow, its naval ambitions in the eastern Mediterranean, US charges against a state-owned Turkish bank and erosion of rights and freedoms in Turkey.
Ankara’s purchase of the S-400s has also triggered US sanctions. In December 2020, Washington blacklisted Turkey’s Defense Industry Directorate, its chief, Ismail Demir, and three other employees.
Since then the US has repeatedly warned Turkey against buying further Russian weaponry. But Erdogan has indicated Ankara still intends to buy a second batch of S-400s from Russia, a move that could deepen the rift with Washington.
The request for the jets will likely have a difficult time getting approval from the US Congress, where sentiment toward Turkey has soured deeply over recent years.
There is bipartisan support in US Congress to push the Biden administration to put further pressure on Ankara, primarily over its purchase of Russian weapons and its human rights track record.
Ankara has said it hopes for better ties under US President Joe Biden.


Lebanon Maronite patriarch says no party should resort to violence

Lebanon Maronite patriarch says no party should resort to violence
Updated 17 October 2021

Lebanon Maronite patriarch says no party should resort to violence

Lebanon Maronite patriarch says no party should resort to violence
  • Thursday’s spasm of violence saw seven Shiite Muslims killed

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, the top Christian cleric, said on Sunday the country’s judiciary should be free of political interference and sectarian “activism” amid tensions over a probe into last year’s blast at Beirut port.
Rai also said that it was unacceptable for any party to resort to threats or violence after last week’s deadly unrest around the investigation — which was Lebanon’s worst street bloodshed in more than a decade and stirred memories of the ruinous 1975-1990 civil war.
“We must free the judiciary from political interference, sectarian and partisan political activism and respect its independence according to the principle of separation of powers,” he said in his sermon.
Rai, head of the Maronite church, has an influential role as religious leader of the biggest Christian community in Lebanon, where political power is divided between its main Christian, Muslim and Druze sects.
The inquiry into the Aug. 4, 2020 explosion, which killed more than 200 people and devastated swathes of Beirut, has made little headway amid pushback from powerful political factions. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has called Judge Tarek Bitar — the lead investigator — biased and politicized.
“The rise in doubts over the (integrity of the) judiciary that has been going for a while has not only undermined the judiciary but also the reputation of Lebanon,” said Rai.
Seven Shiite Muslims were killed on Thursday as crowds were on their way to a protest against Bitar in a demonstration called by the Iran-backed Shiite Hezbollah group and its Shiite ally Amal.
The violence added to concerns over the stability of a country that is awash with weapons and grappling with an economic meltdown.
“The democratic system has afforded us peaceful means for freedom of expression whether in support or opposition so it’s not acceptable that any party should resort to threats or violence and setting up party checkpoints or tribal ones to get what they want through force,” said Rai.
Hezbollah blamed the Christian Lebanese Forces party for the deaths on Thursday, an accusation the head of that party, Samir Geagea, denied.
The perpetrators should be held to account, the pro-Iranian Al-Mayadeen TV quoted a Hezbollah representative in the Lebanese parliament as saying on Sunday.
“What the criminals ... did is a massacre and it will have important ramifications,” MP Hassan Fadallah said, according to the Beirut-based channel. “Those who incited, planned ... and opened fire should be held to account all the way up to the top.”
On Thursday, the army initially said rounds were fired on at protesters as they passed through the Teyouneh traffic circle dividing Christian and Shiite Muslim neighborhoods. It later said there had been an “altercation and exchange of fire” as protesters were on their way to the demonstration.
Defense Minister Maurice Selim said on Saturday that a stampede and a clash in Teyouneh led to gunfire by both sides, adding that the exchange of fire had preceded the sniper fire.
Families of the victims of the port blast expressed their support for judge Bitar on Saturday after a spokesman for one of their groups surprisingly changed tack on Friday night by saying he should leave.
His sudden change of stance prompted a flurry of speculation on social media that he had been threatened.


Iran’s navy prevents pirate attack in Gulf of Aden

Iran’s navy prevents pirate attack in Gulf of Aden
Updated 17 October 2021

Iran’s navy prevents pirate attack in Gulf of Aden

Iran’s navy prevents pirate attack in Gulf of Aden
  • Iranian destroyer Alborz was escorting two oil tankers when they were attacked by five pirate ships

TEHRAN: An Iranian warship on Saturday prevented an attack by pirates against two oil tankers that it was escorting in the Gulf of Aden, the country’s naval chief said.
“Navy commandos were successful in repulsing this morning the attack by pirates against an Iranian commercial convoy in the Gulf of Aden,” said navy commander Admiral Shahram Irani, quoted on Saturday by the official IRNA news agency.
“The destroyer Alborz was escorting two oil tankers when they were attacked by five pirate ships,” he said, noting that Iranian shots were fired, forcing “the attackers to leave the area.”


Anwar Sadat’s nephew negotiates way out for Egypt prisoners

Anwar Sadat’s nephew negotiates way out for Egypt prisoners
Updated 17 October 2021

Anwar Sadat’s nephew negotiates way out for Egypt prisoners

Anwar Sadat’s nephew negotiates way out for Egypt prisoners
  • Mohamed Al-Sadat has become an unofficial negotiator advocating on behalf of figures imprisoned under President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi

CAIRO: The fate of dissidents languishing in Egypt’s prisons has long been under scrutiny, but one veteran is leveraging his political prowess in a bid to have them released.
Mohamed Al-Sadat, 66, nephew of former president Anwar Al-Sadat, the first Arab leader to strike peace with Israel, has long been a fixture of Egypt’s political scene.
Now, he has become an unofficial negotiator advocating on behalf of figures imprisoned under the uncompromising administration of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
“Dialogue with the state’s institutions isn’t just a one-man job, there are many others in close contact... but lately we’ve been successful in using a language that is being listened to,” he said in his plush office in an upscale Cairo suburb.
“This has been effective in some cases (of political prisoners) being re-examined,” he said.
Forty-six prisoners were freed in July, including prominent activists such as rights lawyer Mahienour el-Massry.
But as many as 60,000 political prisoners are serving time in Egyptian jails, according to human rights defenders.
El-Sisi, a former army chief, became president in 2014 after leading the military ouster of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi a year earlier.
He has since overseen a sweeping crackdown on dissent.
Those jailed for criticizing the political status quo have included academics, journalists, lawyers, activists, comedians, Islamists, presidential candidates and MPs.
But Sadat is less concerned about the conditions that led to their arrest than with securing their release.
“There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes in these security agencies where they undertake an examination of specific cases that we’ve raised, whether from a humanitarian or legal perspective,” he explained.
With a portrait of his uncle, a Nobel laureate for the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty, gazing down on him, Sadat was careful not to appear too critical of El-Sisi’s human rights record.
He insisted that on-off pressures imposed by US President Joe Biden’s administration have not influenced Egypt’s willingness to improve its often condemned record on human rights.
“I don’t agree that it (reform efforts) all stems from international pressures or a new US administration, that’s not really appropriate to say,” he maintained.
El-Sisi enjoyed a close working relationship with former US president Donald Trump who said the Egyptian leader was doing “a fantastic job in a very difficult situation,” in reference to counter-terrorism and regional instability.
But Biden kicked off his term this year by vowing no more “blank checks” to El-Sisi.
However, with Cairo’s critical role in brokering a cease-fire between the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas and Israel after fighting broke out in May, ties with Washington have significantly warmed.
Leading an “International Dialogue” delegation comprised of lawmakers and media personalities to Washington last week, Sadat went on a “charm offensive,” according to one attendee of the meetings.
The dialogue included meetings with State Department officials, think tanks, policymakers and Egyptian activists.
“Sadat’s not the boss. He is there as a figurehead or elder statesman,” the source, who preferred to remain anonymous, said.
“Maybe El-Sisi wants to get his DC invitation and this is the way,” the participant added.
Sadat, who once mulled a presidential run in 2018 against El-Sisi, describes himself as an “honest broker” and “messenger” but not the decision-maker.
“We’re told by judicial officials that some inmates will be released after looking over their case files again. We then tell their families. That’s the process in a nutshell,” Sadat said.
For one former detainee unable to leave Egypt because he is on a no-fly list, Sadat’s role has been crucial in negotiating his case with the interior ministry.
Describing him as “genuinely sympathetic,” the detainee, who requested anonymity, said: “He’s treading a very delicate line ... He’s interfacing with security agencies and civil society activists.”
“He’s the man of the hour really when it comes to human rights.”